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Author, neurologist has a ‘gut’ reaction to MS

By Marilyn Murray Willison

For decades, the standard treatment for MS — whether relapsing-remitting or progressive — has been a course of physician-prescribed medication. However, an entirely new approach has emerged that is turning the world of neurology upside down. And at the vanguard of this new attitude toward autoimmune diseases is a best-selling neurologist from Naples, Fla.

Dr. David Perlmutter is a neurologist and a fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He is also the recipient of the Linus Pauling Award, and the author of two number one New York Times best-selling books. As one of his former patients, I spoke with Dr. Perlmutter and asked him to discuss his recent findings with the readers of the MSFocus.

Perlmutter told me he has been a practicing neurologist for three decades and for his entire career the emphasis — especially when it came to MS and other neurological autoimmune disorders — has always been “the brain, the brain, the brain.” Now, however, research has discovered that the quality of the bacteria in our gut seems to (literally) regulate autoimmunity. “There are unique bacteria in the guts of patients with MS, and the top researchers at the MS Microbiome Consortium are trying to find an effective way to treat that imbalance,” he said.

Perlmutter traveled to Australia to meet with gastroenterologist Dr. Thomas Borody, who has developed specific therapeutic ways to “reboot” the gut bacteria of patients with MS. Both he and doctors at the Taymount Clinic, in England, have learned that the once-controversial procedure known as FMT (fecal matter transplant) has resulted in astonishing improvement among patients who suffer from an imbalance of harmful gut bacteria. Readers who are curious about this procedure can Google Carlos Deangulo, and learn more about how FMT helped him ditch his wheelchair.

According to Perlmutter, “As a practicing physician who deals with patients with MS on a daily basis, lifestyle choices are by far and away the most relevant, most powerful, and most results-oriented approaches that go well beyond medication. In fact, vitamin D is twice as effective in reducing the risk of recurring events as related to MS than several of the prescribed MS medications.”

The “lifestyle choices” that Perlmutter refers to primarily concern our dietary habits. His book Grain Brain argued that carbohydrates (like bread) and other simple sugars have become powerful risk factors for becoming an Alzheimer’s patient. In fact, many in the medical profession now casually refer to Alzheimer’s as “Type 3 Diabetes” because of the direct link between chronic elevated blood sugar and dementia.

For those of us who have MS, Perlmutter’s message remains the same. “Dietary carbs and sugars change a patient’s gut bacteria — and not in a good way. They cause increase inflammation, which is linked to degenerative, noninfection diseases — like MS. I’d like everyone to work hard at building an intestinal environment of good gut bacteria, and that means using lots of probiotics or prebiotic fiber. They are what’s needed to naturally nourish the good gut bacteria.”

The idea of approaching a cure for MS through the gut rather than through the brain tissue is definitely revolutionary, but it bears looking into. Some critics, like science writer Alanna Collen, disagree with Perlmutter’s approach, and consider probiotics to be a treatment that is “too little, too late.”

Only time and more research will tell if Dr. Perlmutter is right or not. But there are plenty of us who are willing to bet on both his brilliance and his optimistic approach to good neurological well being.